The Exceptional Child

The Community and the Exceptional Child

Produced for the Educational Television and Radio Center by Syracuse University, 1969

Statement and Disclaimer from Thomas Neuville, Associate Professor, Department of Special Education, Millersville University

Narrator: This girl is blind. This boy is mentally handicapped. This boy's emotional maladjustment has led him to court. These children are members of the community. They are handicapped, but most important of all, they are children, with appetites and needs for the things which all children need. Love, security, confidence and recognition, and they need our help.

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Speaker: The Exceptional Child, a child with differences. It is our hope that through these programs, we might better understand this child and help him.

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Narrator: All children need help if they are to grow into happy and constructive members of their communities. The exceptional child, because of the special problems that his handicap presents, needs even more specialized help if he is, too, to take his place in society and contribute meaningfully to society, and develop his own personality.

I'm Ed Jones, your host on these programs, and today, on this, our last program, we're going to examine the role of the community in assisting in the development of full and positive relationships with a child who is exceptional.

With us today, to help us gain greater understanding of the ways the community and society as a whole assist the exceptional child is Dr. Orville Johnson, Professor of Special Education at Syracuse University, author and editor of several books concerning exceptional children, and a man who has worked 20 years with children with handicaps.

Dr. Johnson: Our society is made up of persons of many races, creeds and abilities. The incidence of problems of children in this society is about 12 to 15%. It is essential that society provide the kind of education that will enable these children, all children, including the exceptional child, to grow up into emotionally healthy individuals in order to contribute to the welfare of the society as they become citizens.

Society has attempted to provide for these children and provide for its community responsibility through many varied kind of agencies. Some of these agencies are supported by tax monies, such as the public schools, our recreational agencies, and various institutions through our departments of mental hygiene.

Other agencies have been supported by special interest groups, such as parent groups who are interested in a specific kind of a problem. Still other agencies are supported through the community chests, where we find such agencies as YWCAs, YMCAs, parent counseling groups and things of this type, where people are helped to grow and children are helped to grow into good citizens.

Of all of the agencies providing services to exceptional children, the public schools are the largest and provide the most extensive services. Many varied kinds of services may be available depending upon the size of the community. In larger communities, services for all types of exceptional children may be found within the public school program.

Where it is impossible for the child to get to school by himself due to some physical disability, or where the service is of such a nature that it must be provided in a special school building out of the child's school district, transportation usually is also provided in order that those children with common types of handicaps may be brought together in one central school building, where the best kind of program may be provided for them.

Children with visual handicaps require special kinds of programs within the schools. They also require additional equipment, facilities and services that are not ordinarily found in a regular classroom, including better lighting, typewriters, magnifying glasses, and large-type books, and things of this type in order that they may receive an education that is relatively equivalent to that provided normal sighted children.

Blind children require even greater adaptations within the educational environment than do partially sighted children. Such equipment as a Braille writer and special instruction in using this kind of equipment so that they can take notes and learn to read material through the sense of touch is essential. Another means of providing blind children with instruction is the talking book, where the materials are transcribed on records and the children are able to obtain the information necessary for their lessons by listening to these records independently.

Some of this instruction will take place in the special classroom where the special techniques and materials are available and the instruction is under the direction of a specialist. Other educational experiences will be provided through the use of models and the use of other tactual materials.

Oral communication is a very essential tool to all individuals, and since many children have difficulty in this area, speech correction is a very important aspect of the education of a child. Most cerebral palsy children require speech correction, and many children without physical disabilities also require this service. Many specialized techniques are used by the speech correctionists, incorporating the use of materials that are of interest to the children, such as a sucker.

Orthopedically handicapped children, the most common today being the cerebral palsied, require a great deal in the way of supplementary service in order that they will be able to use their total ability as effectively as possible. Consequently, in programs for orthopedically handicapped children, in addition to the regular school personnel, specialists in the area of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy are commonly employed to supplement the services provided in the academic areas. Much of their treatment is under the direction of a physician, particularly qualified in this area of work. Children are helped to learn to walk, are provided with whatever specialized kinds of equipment that are needed to aid them in becoming more ambulatory and, consequently, more independent. This does not mean that education is excluded from their program or even takes a secondary place. Rather, the program may be conceived as being dual in nature, designed to help the individual develop all of his physical and intellectual abilities.

Through the school health and public health authorities, physical examinations are routinely required of the children or provided for them where necessary. These examinations become an integral part of the visual and hearing conservation programs so that children who have need for treatment by specialists may be referred, or children who have need for special education for partially sighted, for partially hearing may be provided for these kinds of problems through specialized programs.

Other kinds of school programs are also provided other types of exceptional children. Classes are provided for educable, mentally handicapped children. Children who have social and emotional problems are provided with aid through counseling services, school psychologists and special programs. Children who have normal intelligence and have need for remediation in order that they can participate more effectively in school can also be provided for within the schools.

These are some of the direct services that we have. For some children, it is impossible or has not been possible for the schools to provide for their needs. Among these have been the severely retarded and the cerebral palsied. Severely retarded children have been provided for by parent groups, are now beginning to be provided for by the public schools.

The other example, the cerebral palsied have largely been provided for by parent organizations through cerebral palsy clinics that have been established for the -- to take care of the needs of these children. This is particularly true for the severely involved, or the lower ability cerebral palsied child. These clinics, like the public schools, usually employ a competent staff of professional personnel that provides for the children's clinical, medical and diagnostic needs, as well as providing physiotherapy, occupational therapy and education where it is indicated.

Included in much of the program are activities in the occupational therapy area, where children are helped to perform normal living activities, such as learning to feed themselves and things of this type. Things that they need to learn in order to become relatively independent persons in society.

These activities are carried on through normal media that are used by a child in his normal living experiences. Not only are the experiences those that they need in order to maintain themselves, but the normal play activities are also used. Young children, both boys and girls, enjoy taking care of dolls, bathing them and so on. These activities form natural kinds of activities to help the severely involved cerebral palsy child, to learn to control the direction of his activities, and improve his general motor skills.

Older and more mature cerebral palsy children will be introduced to other kinds of play activities, activities that require finer coordination, activities that require a higher degree of intelligence. These are activities such as the use of Tinker Toys and equipment of this type. It is essential that these children learn to control their motor activities to the highest degree possible so that they will be able to participate as effectively as possible in society.

We need to learn a great deal more concerning these children. Today, we are expanding research programs in order to provide more adequate programs for them. Much of this research is being provided for through foundation funds, from private foundations as well as federal and state foundations.

Examples are the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Office of Education, the various associations for crippled children and so on. Some of the information that we need in terms of specific programs and specific communities are surveys to determine how many children there are in a community that have need for a certain kind of service, and how economical and effective this service will be. Other studies are needed concerning the learning characteristics of the children so the best kind of experiences can be provided. While these services are of an indirect nature, it is extremely important in terms of planning a total program for them.

Other kinds of indirect services are also provided within communities for exceptional children such as the services that are provided by family agencies. Then, communities also provide services through other agencies for all children where the exceptional child is also included in the program. Examples of these kinds of agencies are the Boys' Clubs, Optimists' Clubs, YWCAs, YMCAs, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, that provide for all children including the exceptional child.

Here, positive kinds of activities are provided the children so that they can become interested in these worthwhile kinds of activities rather than forming in gangs and becoming a problem to the community.

Opportunities are also provided here for older boys, to learn to take responsibility for younger boys, to aid them and to learn to work with them. The younger boys learn dependence, the older boys learn how to help.

These clubs also provide opportunities for college students to learn more about children as a part of their work in schools of education where they are preparing to become teachers or in schools of social work where they are preparing to make a contribution in this area. As a result, these people will be better able to perform their duties as technically trained professional persons after they have graduated from their college courses.

It will be noted that there are many and varied kinds of activities within these organizations that should be of interest to and a challenge to the imagination and intelligence of almost any child. Activities involving a definite learning experiences, as well as many and varied kinds through the use of hand puppets, construction, chess games of an avocational nature.

Oral communication and cooperative types of activities help these children to learn to work together and contribute to the completion of single projects where they have all become involved in the project.

Physical activities are also often included, since boys and girls like and have a need to become involved in games that require a great deal of physical activity. They also aid in the improvement of general physical development, as well as motor skills. Thus, basketball, football, baseball, tetherball, the use of the gymnasium with the trampoline and games of this type become an integral part of many kinds of programs of this type.

Society, thus, has accepted a responsibility for all children, including the exceptional child. It has attempted to discharge this responsibility through its various agencies. There are many agencies that have been formed to take care of specific kinds of problems. Others of a more general nature.

Despite the fact that many agencies have been formed and are available to aid children, these services and facilities are quite inadequate. For example, less than one-third of our educable mentally handicapped are provided for within our public schools. A child with psychological problems who goes to a diagnostic clinic will have to wait, often for six months, before they can take him, and then only diagnostic services will be provided and seldom will the necessary treatment. We in society need to become familiar with these agencies, but we also need to become familiar with the needs of these agencies and the needs of these children so that we can provide the kinds of experiences the children can benefit most from to become the kinds of contributing adult members of society that they potentially can become.

Narrator: Every child has his own pattern of growth. When a child has a handicap, the difficulties in achieving the necessary growth and development for a happy and meaningful life may be unusually complicated and severe. It is up to all of us as parents, neighbors, and as individual members of society, to do all we can to help all children achieve the maximum of their potentiality. If a child is exceptional, he will require special and exceptional understanding and help. As we can, we must provide this so that these children can more effectively take their place as contributing members of society.

It is an important and difficult challenge about which Dr. William Cruickshank, Director of Special Education at Syracuse University and outstanding leader in the education and understanding of exceptional children has this significant comment on the relationship of the exceptional child in society.

Dr. Cruickshank: As we've been considering the exceptional child during this series of programs, we've thought of him as a child who differs from normal children by reason of a mental or a physical or emotional handicap, so much that he requires special services, such as those which Dr. Johnson has just been speaking of in order to bring him to the maximum of his abilities.

It's seldom, however, that we realize that there is in the United States at the present time between 15 and 20% of the total child population that falls within this definition. This is a very large group, much larger than we normally think. It is indeed such a gigantic social problem at the present time that we must muster all of our energies, both our own individual energies and the energies of the other people with whom we deal in the community, community organizations, to attempt a frontal attack on the problems of physical and mental illness that so frequently characterize our children.

Narrator: Well, Dr. Cruikshank, this is our final program. We have looked at the problems of many kinds of exceptional children, always considering them from the relationships at home, at school and in the larger community. And now is the time to sum up.

I would like to ask you some questions based upon our theme of the past weeks, and that is the hope that we may better understand the exceptional child. I think those people who have been with us during these past weeks would appreciate having you summarize some of the problems at home, for example, the problems of the child and the parents, and I'm thinking here not of the problems of any particular kind of exceptional child but, rather, the common problems.

Dr. Cruikshank: Well, Mr. Jones, I think that if I were to try to discuss one of the most important problems of exceptionality in families, I would think of the problem of -- that parents have to face as they try to bring their hopes and aspirations for their children in line with reality, in line with reality that is characterized by the physical or the mental or the emotional disability with which they may be dealing.

All of us who are parents of children have real hopes for our children. We hope that they will grow and achieve and attain things that we have not been able to achieve or attain. Parents of exceptional children have such hopes, too. And when these hopes are dashed by their realization that their child is mentally retarded or so severely physically disabled that medicine and other sciences are not going to be able to remedy the problem, frustrations, maladjustments, oftentimes occur.

Oftentimes, parents further attempt to achieve in spite of the disability. It's an unrealistic sort of situation that they're operating within. I'm thinking of a college student that we had at the university not so very long ago. A profoundly disabled young woman with a very keen mind but with cerebral palsy that was so severe, that she had to be helped to dress, to feed herself. She couldn't go upstairs, she couldn't speak. This young lady wanted to become a clinical psychologist, a completely unrealistic hope and, yet, a real hope, and one which, because it couldn't be achieved, has resulted in maladjustment, misunderstanding, disgruntlement on her part and the part of her parents ever since.

Narrator: Well, Dr. Cruikshank, how important to the growth and development of the exceptional child is the broader society, the neighborhood, let's say, in the city?

Dr. Cruikshank: This is as important, of course, as the attitudes that parents themselves have towards their children. As a matter of fact, it may be more important because, oftentimes, the attitudes of the neighborhood serve to mold the attitudes of the parents, as well. Parents, however, are oftentimes confronted with very unrealistic attitudes on the part of neighbors, on the part of the community in which they live. Most people who have not had an intimate association with physical, mental or emotional disability represent and hold attitudes that are considerably outmoded and are considerably unrealistic.

Mysticism and superstition surround children and adults with epilepsy, still, in the society in which we live, even though this is certainly not a mystical or a superstitious problem in itself. And one which is easy to understand. People generally hold very peculiar notions about what the blind are like, what they can do and what they can't do. The idea of the sixth sense to compensate for the lack of vision is frequently held and there's nothing to this concept whatsoever.

Yet, these outdated attitudes towards children who are mentally retarded, even the concept of the gifted child as a brain, is a very difficult one for parents to accept and understand. All of these unwholesome attitudes serve to make adjustment for families who are facing disabled children and facing problems of exceptionality very difficult, indeed.

Narrator: Well, then, of course, there's the school where a child spends much of his day and which, together with his home, may be almost all of his total environment. What about the problems there?

Dr. Cruikshank: Well, I think we find generally much more favorable attitudes towards exceptional children in school than we do in the neighborhood or in the community at large. Here we have people who are generally well-prepared to understand the individual differences of children, and, yet, we are now moving into a new concept of education for exceptional children, in the United States, at least, one which means that instead of placing children in residential schools, far from their homes, or placing them sometimes in special schools within the community, that insofar as possible -- although we will never be free of residential schools or the need for them, but insofar as possible, they will be integrated into the regular grades of their neighborhood schools. Some children will not be able to accomplish this, of course, but if this is accomplished, it then means that all teachers, all superintendents, all school principals, all of the employees that work in any school building must understand thoroughly the nature and needs of exceptionality.

I recall a young child who was about in the fourth grade, who was rejected thoroughly by her teacher because she wore a hearing aid, and, yet, this child was able to read lips, was able to use her hearing aid and was able to understand well. But because of the aid, she was rejected. Teachers must understand and accept these problems.

Narrator: Well, it's apparent, Dr. Cruikshank, that we've made great process in helping exceptional children. What is your hope for the future?

Dr. Cruikshank: The future is good for these children. We probably won't solve all the problems within our lifetime but, certainly, we're coming closer to it than we ever dreamed. The advent of the Sauk Vaccine has meant a very marked change in the nature of the enrollment in schools for crippled children, for example. More and more epileptic children are being cared for, and more and more epilepsy is being brought under control by new drugs which appear almost every day.

Research in the field of nutrition, for example, has meant that some forms of mental retardation are becoming minimized. So it goes with tuberculosis in childhood, with cardiac problems, and with all sorts of problems. The future's good and it really presents to us a marked challenge.

Narrator: And it is also a challenge that we as a community and as individuals must accept as ours, and as we continue and greatly expand our efforts to help the exceptional child, we must keep in mind that the child with a handicap is yet a child, an exceptional child with a life that may be restricted, sometimes even distorted but a life that can grow and continue to grow toward fulfillment.

As we know more about the total growth of the child with a handicap, we will be able to help the exceptional child more in his quest for happier, more secure relationships in life, with the hope that if he cannot completely eliminate his handicaps, he may effectively reduce the restrictions they cause.

A child is born, new life begun, a life that may be exceptional but need not be without beauty and achievement.

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Speaker: This is National Educational Television.